HODR Sichuan Assessment update
Trip Start Sep 05, 2006
90Trip End Ongoing
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Lunch was prepared in typical fashion for party officials hosting a guest. In the known history of this village, one other foreigner had passed through. He too was invited to dine around a table packed to the edges with dish after dish of spicy Sichuan food while party officials undoubtedly asked him about his home country. Attempting to direct the conversation toward the degree of known damage to building and infrastructure, I was redirected by inquiries by the officials wanting to know if my golden hair and blue eyes meant I was handsome in my home country
As I continued to assess the village with the Head Chief, the Deputy Head Chief, the Deputy Secretary Chief, the General Deputy Secretary and several other flamboyantly titled men, the kindness of these villagers reminded me of some of the times in Peru and Bangladesh that nearly brought me to tears. Sometimes, a man would rush out of a bush or from a construction site in tattered and dirty clothes, and began distributing cigarettes from his own shirt pocket to the party officials and often tried to give me two. Trying to explain that I don't smoke was a foreign concept here. But so was my golden hair...I had the same thoughts I have had many times at HODR projects, that is, how can these people be so generous and seemingly so content with their lives when they live in such seemingly poor conditions? It has been easy to get caught up in city life again since we are based in Chengdu, but being reminded yet again that where life is simple, it is often sweetest.
A "minpien" (business card) goes a long way in China. A local contact, Peter, who enjoys near celebrity status within the ranks of the NGO that he works for has been helpful in navigating the complexities of working for an NGO in China. The minpien is to be given to the receiver standing up, and with two hands
We have made over 130 personal contacts, visited 25 potential job sites, contacted 48 different NGOs, businesses and other groups, and 19 government departments, and we've held 42 meetings. We still haven't been able to get to work, and that is due to other complexities a bit more difficult to navigate than giving and receiving a business card.
Quite simply, there is no infrastructure in which NGOs have to work. The government has no infrastructure for dealing with NGOs. One of the 42 organization we have been in contact with, Heart to Heart has worked in China for over 20 years. It took them 20 years to build up the necessary trust and relationship with the right government officials in order for them to receive official permission to operate in China. Almost all Chinese NGOs are both new and unofficial themselves. Some had preexisting government connections which have allowed an increased ability to operate, many are still building these relationships themselves. I realize that it is a big ask to expect a Chinese organization or business to stick its neck out, risking its own connections and authority to operate to let us piggy back on those relationships to do our work
The problem is, even those individuals or organizations that have road passes don't really know how they have them, or who to talk to in order to get one. If we are lucky enough to get a name and number of some gov't official, the official is quick to pass us off to another official, often in a different city, with no relationship to the official we had originally been speaking to. The normal response is that "we don't have the authority to make these kinds of decisions." We've also spend days "official chasing" in person. The reaction is usually the same, they listen blankly while we talk about our work, then pass us on to someone else who has no authority either.
Cold calling Chinese officials and showing up unannounced at their office or place of work is not the proper way of conducting business here
Our most robust strategy has been to really develop a relationship with local and national Chinese NGOS and foundations. I believe that there are receptive, willing, and eager NGOs whos staff are people like myself, that do exist here. The desire to get to work, to apply the resources of the NGO and help people is as strong here as anywhere else. Finding that NGO or that foundation, or that group of businesses takes time. A group that is small enough to understand the realities and difficulties of putting hands to work in the disaster zone, but has the right level of authority to do so, is a rarity. Our most recent round of meetings has lent our most promising connections yet. This week, we have two invitations to spend extended periods of time in the company of partner Chinese NGO's at their job sites. Both seem eager to expand and apply the HODR model in the communities where they are already semi-established. This may be a breakthrough, this may just be another high point in this assessment followed by the unfortunate low points marked to the difficulty of NGO work in China.
None the less, we are excited, and still optimistic!!!
I hope to see some of you guys in the near future.